No exaggeration. Well, barely. Ellie and I joined our sitting group yesterday morning for our usual Sunday hour-long sit, and I had what has to count as my worst sit ever--and I've been doing this for fifteen years! Perhaps some of my meditating friends out there could help me with their insights.
Here's how it went: I noticed something "wrong" from the start. It usually takes me no more than a few breaths to get settled in, to slow down to meditation speed. Yesterday, though--and for no discernible reason--my heart was pounding at an unusual rate and my breath was jerky and uneven. I tried the usual tactics. Keep breathing, watch the breath. I moved on into metta, the goodwill practice, first for myself, then for family and close friends--I went through all the usual faces--then those I don't know and have no judgment about one way or the other, those I dislike or distrust, those in power, those without it, who are suffering from hunger, disease, or violence. My mind kept wandering, nowhere in particular, and my body was inordinately restless. Legs, arms, neck... I did my best to bring some rest to them with the breath. No luck.
Undeterred, I moved on to my body scan, starting at the centerpoint and working through the abdomen, the flanks, chest and heart, neck, head... and down the back to the legs and down from the shoulders to the fingertips. I could NOT get settled. Neither mind nor body. I ached, literally, to be out of there. Several times, I nearly got up and left. I resorted to measuring the passing minutes against the breath, and every minute seemed like a half-hour. It wasn't as though there was anything particular on my mind--not that I could identify, though I resisted trying to identify it.
Then came the panic. This was perhaps forty minutes into the sit. It manifested first in the form of body heat. I felt my body begin to burn, a kind of fever which intensified into a sweating anxiety. My head kept saying, gotta get out of here. NOW. Fighting the panic, of course, results only in more panic. I had to MOVE. I found small ways to release the tension, a shift in the position of the legs, a slight stretch of the neck. Small comfort. My head began to go into black-out mode... Fearing that I would quite literally and imminently pass out, I leaned forward, placing my head between my knees.
Then it was over. For perhaps no more than the last five minutes of that long, long hour, I managed to find a place of serenity. I began to breathe easy. I managed to let go of everything that had gone before. My mind was content to accept stillness and peace. Then the bell rang. I was never so happy to hear that mellow sound...
I wonder, then, if any of my fellow meditators have had similar experiences? I have, in truth, had minor episodes of this kind in the past--particularly the body heat and, of course, the struggle with the mind and the breath. But never this intense, or this prolonged. I wonder to what extent it might have to do with our current global malaise, about which I'll be posting more tomorrow. Have you been losing sleep?